the other day, my student asked me in the middle of a class, “so if you celebrate the holidays here, do you participate in czech or american traditions?”
(cut to a dream sequence)
hmmmm, that’s an interesting one! it’s now my fourth holiday season here (and my first married christmas!) in the czech republic and i do love adapting to different christmas traditions, much like a sponge. (below, large shoe box full of cookies we were famously gifted in 2013)
czech christmas cookies? this is an easy one to adapt to! particularly the linecký and the rohlíčky! it is so common in the czech republic for babičkas and maminkas to bake several different kinds of cookies in one day… i have heard as many as ninteeen different kinds. although i absolutely love gobbling them up when i have the opportunity, i think i will stick to my two favorites: russian tea cakes and the extremely american peanut butter blossoms. the latter are really unlike any cookies you would find in this part of central europe, so they’re pretty fun to share!
although this year i did try my hand at making my first vánočka. (got to get into czech baking a little bit! below)
as for the christmas tree, i do admire the european tradition to put up the tree on the night of the 23rd or on the 24th, but i could never hold out that long! i realize it must be so special to see the tree all lit up and decorated for the first time, but i want weeks of sitting around it and smelling its piney smells. i loved playing with the different ornaments as a child, and those times of just having the trees presence around is really important to us americans. especially as my husband alex and i often like to take off to spend christmas in another country, it’s essential to have around before hand.
as for christmas music? like christmas cookies, i’m happy to listen to all kinds of songs of almost every genre. a few years ago i got a lucie bila (popular czech pop singer) christmas album so it was interesting delving into the world of modern czech christmas koledy (carols). but my favorite way to enjoy music at christmas time is at the large christmas market in our local square which has local musicians, dancers, bands, and choirs every single afternoon and evening. the most heartwarming moments are when the crowd is all singing a beloved christmas song together… all around me. (of course, i will still just as easily pop in n’sync’s christmas album, it still holds up)
one thing i do have in common with the czechs is celebrating christmas essentially on the 24th, christmas eve. we like to have a big dinner (usually italian pasta shells, alex’s one request), then some tuneskies, homemade eggnog (it is actually really easy to make!), and gathering round the tree to open gifts. but to be fair, my family has done this since i was little so it wasn’t a great big adaptation! that means actual christmas day is just about being cozy, watching movies, and getting out of the house for a christmas stroll or going out to a fancy and festive holiday meal (as many restaurants open back up on this day around these parts).
(below, last year’s christmas eve feast in our hotel room as everything was closed! mince-meat pies, alaskan smoked salmon,
vánočka, port, fruit, and cookies)
one thing i began doing when i moved to the czech republic was to start collecting a christmas ornament from every place that we spent christmas. so far that is prague,
české budějovice, a tiny austrian village, and this year… berlin. (okay, one from our santorini honeymoon too) while i love being “home for the holidays”, i’m definitely trying to take advantage of years where we can travel to different countries in europe to spend christmas day (and see how they do it there).
as i get a little older, i really see the value in unwrapping these memories once a year and remembering all of those wonderful moments that come flooding back. although i had been on a bit of a minimalism kick for awhile, i will stand by my ornament collection. it’s also really fun receiving them from students too… helps to beef up our tree a bit.
after spending four years of pre-expat, american life working in retail, i feel pretty lucky to be working in the education system here in the czech republic which totally values vacation time. two weeks of holiday time is more than i ever could have asked for. most people take as much time off as they can manage around this time of year, particularly (if possible) between the feast days: christmas and new year’s (silvestr).
it’s quite popular and modern to take a new year’s holiday out to the middle of the woods or the mountains with friends and family as a big group. it is, however, not popular to spend christmas day away from home! i guess more hotel rooms available for me? heh.
and lastly, is there really a holiday season that is complete without pierogies? nope, no way. last year we were late to a new year’s party because the making and the eating went a bit long…. oops.
i don’t think i’ll ever relent some of my american traditions, but i love incorporating the new ones i find out about as well and i know i’ll be continuing them throughout the years.
merry christmas and happy holidays to you, my friends! xo